When he was just a student at Miami Palmetto Senior High School, Jeff Bezos – who even at that young age was known for seeing possibilities where others did not – started a summer education camp for little kids.
In his flyer about the program, Bezos described his commitment to “new ways of thinking in old areas."
That mindset would give birth to Amazon.com, the online retailer that started as an e-bookstore. And now, many wonder if this visionary can take a highly regarded newspaper like The Washington Post – struggling economically like so many others – which he has purchased, and give it new energy without losing what made it legendary.
Post publisher Katherine Weymouth said in a story in the publication that Bezos, a fan of newspapers who is said to start every day reading several of them, fits the requirement the family had for the buyer that it be someone who “had to share our values and commitment to journalism or we wouldn’t sell it.”
Bezos, one of the wealthiest people in the world, is said to have agreed to pay $250 million in cash for The Post and other publications that are part of the company. Among them is the Spanish-language newspaper El Tiempo Latino.
The 49-year-old, who as a boy built many of his own toys, knows all about winning against the odds.
He was raised by a mother, Jackie Gise, and stepfather, Cuban refugee Mike Bezos, who married as teenagers and pushed him and his two siblings to dream big.
In an interview with Wired.com, Bezos spoke of his father, who came to the United States from Cuba at the age of 15, as a key pillar in his life.
Of his biological father, Bezos said, flatly, "I've never met him,” according to Wired.com “But the reality, as far as I'm concerned, is that my Dad is my natural father. The only time I ever think about it, genuinely, is when a doctor asks me to fill out a form."
The elder Bezos, who adopted Jeff after he married his mother, came to the United States as part of the Pedro Pan program, through which thousands of youths were sent to this country by parents who didn’t want them to live under the island’s new Communist regime. He lived in a Catholic mission with other Pedro Pan kids, and went on to attend the University of Albuquerque, where his now-famous son was born in 1964.
Eventually they moved to South Florida, and the precocious Jeff Bezos already was attracting attention as an overachiever.
He graduated valedictorian of his high school class, something he had told his classmates early on that he was determined to do, and then graduated summa cum laude in 1986 from Princeton University, where he got a degree in computer science and electrical engineering, according to Biography.com
"Jeff always wanted to make a lot of money," a former high school girlfriend of Bezos, Ursula Werner, told Wired.com. But, she added, "It wasn't about money itself. It was about what he was going to do with the money, about changing the future."
He left a successful career in finance to move to Seattle and start an online bookstore from a garage. He decided to name his venture Amazon, after the South American River.
Says Biography.com: “The initial success of the company was meteoric. With no press promotion, Amazon.com sold books across the United States and in 45 foreign countries within 30 days. In two months, sales reached $20,000 a week, growing faster than Bezos and his start-up team had envisioned.”
He expanded his business beyond books, to the dismay of many who suddenly had to compete with Amazon.com’s lower prices.
“While many dot.coms of the early ‘90s went bust, Amazon flourished with yearly sales that jumped from $510,000 in 1995 to over $17 billion in 2011,” said Biography.com
More success followed in 2007, when Amazon.com released the Kindle, the handheld digital book reader.
Arguably, many journalists, both inside and outside the Washington Post, reacted with shock and dismay over the news that the Weymouth-Graham family was selling the newspaper.
“It’s very sad,” said Post associate editor Bob Woodward in an interview with The Daily Beast.
As a young reporter at The Post, Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the story about Watergate and set a new gold standard for reporting.
“But if there’s somebody who can succeed, it’s Bezos," Woodward continued. "He’s the innovator, he’s got the money and the patience, so we’ll see. I think in some ways, this may be the Post’s last chance to survive, at least in some form of what it was.”